Australian literature: FAQs

Questions and Answers

Browse example questions received by the Library. Answers were provided by Reader Services staff using the resources in this guide.

Case Study

Oldest Novel set in Canberra

M. Barnard Eldershaw's novel, Plaque with Laurel, set in Canberra, was published in 1937. Is this the first novel to use Canberra as a setting?

  • We can use the AustLit database  search function to find the oldest novel set in Canberra. Type in Canberra novel as keywords.
  • On the results page, under Topic select Canberra and under Form select novel.
  • Use the drop-down menu 'Sort by relevance' to choose 'Sort by work date'. The oldest published item will appear first.
  • This shows that Plaque with Laurel is the oldest novel.

A further search of AustLit shows there is poetry and several older short stories with Canberra as a subject. There is also a 1917 novella:

Australia A.D. 2000; or, The Great Referendum
Fielding, S. G. (a.k.a. Fielding, Sydney Glanville; Fielding, Rev. Sydney G.)
Sydney, New South Wales : William Andrews, 1917.

This is marked as  "novella, fantasy, science fiction" A Library copy of this item also shows that it is a form of religious essay.  Therefore it would seem that Plaque with Laurel is in fact the oldest novel set in Canberra.

Case Study

Biographical details for an author

Do you have any biographical information about Walter Cunningham? I need to include information and quote his birth and death dates in my thesis.

We can find a short biographical entry for Walter Cunningham in the book Authors & illustrators of Australian children's books.  The book references Cunningham as being born in Twickenham England in 1910 and dying in August 1988.

There is also some limited biographical information on Cunningham from Prints and Printmaking Australia.  

While the Library has a biographical cuttings file on Walter Cunningham it only lists the publications he illustrated and does not provide any other biographical information.

For more information we could try contacting the Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children's Literature at the University of Canberra. They hold research files on many children's authors and illustrators including Cunningham. You can find their contact details here.

Case Study

A poem half-remembered from school

Can you help me locate a poem taught in NSW primary schools late 1950s? The only verse I can recall is,
"There's many a hole, in branch and bole, where wood ducks find a rest
As they halt at night on a southern flight, from the dried out spaces West"
The first place we can look is online, where there is another person asking the same question on an online forum. They give some extra lines of the poem, and include the title: The Tale of an Old Gum Tree.

We can search of AustLit for this title, and find the author, Jim Grahame, and  publication information, but not the full text of the poem.

It was first published in The Bulletin, vol.41 no. 2083 15 January 1920, page 22.
 
The poem was also published in The School Paper : Grades V and VI, no.339 July 1927, pages 91 & 92. 
 
See the box, 'Access to Library materials' for details on how to get a copy of the poem.